By Philippe Guinot, MACEPA country office director for Senegal.
Through music and film, people in Senegal are learning how to protect themselves and their families from malaria. Senegal’s National Malaria Control Program has piloted using these innovative methods to help fight the disease while boosting popular support for elimination through the Zero Malaria Starts with Me campaign in partnership with MACEPA and Speak Up Africa.
Through the Sama Vidéo, Sunu Santé project (“My video, our health” in the Wolof language), Senegalese children write their own scripts, shoot, and edit their own films, all while learning about malaria. The films are then screened for the rest of the community, sharing malaria messages with friends and neighbors and giving the young actors, directors, and screenwriters a moment of public health fame.
Sama Vidéo amplifies local perspectives, giving children the opportunity to express themselves in a fun and creative way, ensuring they fully understand and adopt the health messages they are crafting.
“It was really moving to see how committed these children and teenagers were,” says Speak Up Africa founder Yacine who designed the project. “I remember during filming, a young boy was pretending to be sick with malaria, he was limping in the street with water on his face to simulate fever while we were all watching. He was dead serious. He was an actor, a real actor.”
Another initiative, the Heartbeat Project is working to spread malaria messages through music. Up-and-coming artists from Senegal and beyond received training on songwriting and production techniques, and worked together to produce a song and shoot a music video about malaria (below).
The result is a mix of hip-hop and pop in French, Wolof, and English with malaria-related lyrics, such as:
I feel for the father who lost his beloved daughter
Because he neglected to use an insecticide-treated net.
In place of a cure, I will now work to ensure
Zero malaria worldwide, really brother you have the key.
(Freely translated from French)
One of the featured artists on the track is Franck Gaëtan Epo-Sosso, a 25-year-old DJ, singer, and songwriter who leads the refrain. In an interview with Speak Up Africa, he discussed his motivation for tackling malaria:
Speak Up Africa: How did you find out about malaria?
Franck Gaëtan Epo-Sosso: I learned about it simply from suffering from it! I was able to recover, thanks to modern medicine, but malaria still kills people and saps entire societies. Here in Senegal, we have the tools to fight malaria and we have seen a decrease in infection and death rates. But we can’t let our guard down—we need to double our efforts, because we can eliminate malaria. It’s our duty, as citizens, to work together to defeat it.
Speak Up Africa: What prompted you to join the Zero Malaria Starts with Me movement?
Franck Gaëtan Epo-Sosso: I felt compelled to join after learning about the truly alarming malaria statistics. I used to think that malaria was a trivial disease, where you would recover quickly. But I was shocked by the amount of deaths it still causes. I don’t think enough people are aware how dangerous it is, which inspired me to join the movement and contribute as an artist.
Speak Up Africa: Can you explain how the song came to be?
Franck Gaëtan Epo-Sosso: The National Malaria Control Program and its partners came up with the idea of bringing together emerging artists to support malaria elimination. The concept was to showcase everyone’s talent—rapping, songwriting, singing—and to record the song together.
Speak Up Africa: How is music useful for driving behavior change?
Franck Gaëtan Epo-Sosso: Music is a powerful vehicle to express emotion. I am sure you have seen an artist performing on TV that has deeply touched you. That’s because artists reveal parts of their personality. If we, as artists, rally for a good cause that matters to us, we’ll want to share it with as many people as we can.
Speak Up Africa: How will this contribute to national momentum to fight malaria?
Franck Gaëtan Epo-Sosso: We live in a society influenced by media, so it is necessary to use these channels to get a message across. What better way to convey an idea than through a music video, with a modern song and very powerful messages to fight malaria?
All members of a community must be committed to defeat malaria to eradicate it. Through art and multimedia approaches, these projects involve communities to deliver a message in their own words, building the momentum necessary to eliminate malaria from Senegal and beyond.